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House GOP Spotlights Vulnerable Members

Policy and politics are merging on the House floor, as Republicans push a jobs-focused agenda they hope will improve the competitiveness of not just the American economy but also GOP incumbents in tough re-election battles.

Last week, the House approved by a 323-95 vote a measure sponsored by freshman Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) to permanently end the “marriage penalty” on taxpayers. Today, the chamber will take up an alternative minimum tax bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.). Next week, it will be Rep. Pete Sessions’ (R) turn, as the Texan takes the lead on a measure to increase the child tax credit.

All three Members face stiff challenges in November. Gerlach was elected to his evenly divided 6th district in 2002 by just 5,000 votes, while Simmons represents a seat that Vice President Al Gore won by 14 points in 2000. Texas redistricting, meanwhile, threw Sessions into one of the most closely watched races of the cycle against Rep. Martin Frost (D).

At a session with reporters Tuesday, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said that allowing vulnerable Members to sponsor popular measures is just one of the benefits of controlling the House.

“We don’t have many perks, but this is one of them,” DeLay said.

House Republicans were loath to admit publicly that political considerations play a role in doling out bill sponsorships, but all agree that a lawmaker’s campaign fortunes can be boosted by a strong legislative record.

“I think it’s important for Members who are being re-elected to be able to point to things they’ve done in the House,” said Carl Forti, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

For that reason, GOP leaders often go out of their way to make sure endangered Members — particularly freshmen — get their names on plenty of legislation. For example, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), one of the Democrats’ top targets this cycle, has sponsored six measures that have either passed the House or become law this Congress.

House GOP leaders have several more politically attractive bills scheduled to come to the floor in the coming weeks, including an extension of the 10 percent income tax bracket and measures designed to increase access to and lower the price of health care.

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